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On June 2, 1953, Queen Elizabeth II ascended to the throne of England and was crowned Queen of the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Pakistan and Ceylon.
This was a momentous event, not only because it was televised for the first time.
While the coronation took place a world away, Canada had its own part to play in it in various ways.
Canada’s prime minister at the time, Louis St. Laurent, declined an invitation to participate, stating:
“In my view, the coronation is the official enthronement of the sovereign as sovereign of the UK. We are happy to attend and witness the coronation of the sovereign of the uk but we are not direct participants in the function.”
While he declined an invitation to participate, St. Laurent and Tommy Douglas were among other Canadians who attended the event. Other prominent Canadians included Ontario Premier Leslie Frost, Toronto Mayor Allan Lamport and two Quebec cabinet ministers.
Four Canadians were selected as gold staff officers for the coronation. They acted as royal ushers at Westminster Abbey, carrying short gold staffs bearing the Queen’s cipher and directing guests to their seats. These four men were on their feet for nine hours in total and consisted of G.G. Crean, a Toronto city counsellor, Lt. Col. H.E. Price of Quebec City and the secretary of the Canadian Joint Staff in London, Louis Couillard of Ottawa, who was the secretary of Canada House, and Robert Campbell Smith of Vancouver, who was the commercial secretary.
A total of 42 members of the RCMP were also on hand for the coronation in London.
It is estimated 10,000 Canadians went to London for the coronation.
The white silk dress, embroidered with floral embalms of the countries of the commonwealth, did include a maple leaf to represent Canada. The 5.5 metre long, hand woven silk velvet cloak was lined with Canadian ermine, which is a form of weasel. Healey Willan, a Canadian composer, wrote an anthem “O Lord Our Governor” which was played at the coronation.
One of the more interesting aspects of Canada’s participation in the coronation comes from the broadcast of it. While millions in Britain watched the event live, special measures were taken to ensure Canadians could watch it the same day. The entire plan was called Operation Pony Express, after the mail delivery service that existed briefly in late-19thcentury America.
The British government provided two RAF Canberra’s, the first generation jet powered medium bomber, to fly the BBC film recordings of the ceremony across the Atlantic Ocean for delivery to the CBC.
One interesting bit of history with this is that it was the first non-stop flight between the United Kingdom and the Canadian mainland.
Upon arrival at Goose Bay, Labrador, the film was transferred to an RCAF CF-100, for a trip to Montreal. Three batches of the film would be delivered in this manner, with two going to Montreal and a third going to Vancouver the following day for delivery to the CBC affiliate there, which had not signed on yet.
This would mark the first time a television program had been seen in both England and North America on the same day. Canadians were able to watch the event only 11 hours after it happened, and 27 minutes before anyone in the United States saw it.
Once the film had gone to Vancouver, RCMP officers escorted it to the Peace Arch Border Crossing, where it was then escorted by the Washington State Patrol to Bellingham, Washington. It would be the inaugural broadcast of KVOS-TV, a new station that reached into the Lower Mainland of BC, which allowed residents to see the coronation on a one-day delay.
Back in eastern Canada in Toronto, ABC arranged to re-transmit the CBC broadcast from the CBC Toronto station and feeding the broadcast to the ABC affiliate in Buffalo. This allowed the ABC network to beat NBC and CBS to air by 90 minutes.
Military tattoos, horse races, parades and fireworks were put on in Canada to celebrate the coronation. Governor General Vincent Massey proclaimed the day a national holiday, and he presided over celebrations on Parliament Hill where the coronation speech from the Queen was broadcast. At Parliament Hill, crowds broke through police lines to sweep over an area reserved for the viceregal and officers had to tussle with citizens to recover chairs.
An estimated 7,000 troops paid homage to the Queen in an Ottawa Ceremony.
In addition, her personal Royal standard was flown from the Peace Tower.
In Newfoundland, 90,000 boxes of candy were given to children, with some dropped from RCAF planes. In Montreal, 400,000 people turned out for celebrations. A multicultural show was put on in Toronto, square dances and exhibitions were held in the prairies and the Chinese community in Vancouver performed a public lion dance. The Eaton’s Department store in Toronto featured huge decorations and a massive crown at the entrance of the store to celebrate the coronation.
In St. John’s, Newfoundland, the city had the largest parade in its history to celebrate.
In Korea, where Canadian soldiers were fighting, they fired red, white and blue coloured smoke shells at the enemy and drank rum rations to celebrate the coronation.
Three million bronze coronation medals were ordered by the Canadian government, struck by the Royal Canadian Mint and were distributed to school children across the country.
The Coronation review of the fleet was conducted on June 15, 1953 with the Queen attending at Spithead near Portsmouth. The Royal Canadian Navy took part in this, sending the HMCS Magnificent, a ship that had served in the navy of Canada since 1948 and was affectionately known as Maggie.
Information for this episode comes from Wikipedia, CBC, the Canadian Encyclopedia, and The Globe and Mail